Title: The Flavor of Laughter, Part Two Chapter Twelve (24/36)
Series: Star Trek XI
Words: This chapter, ~4.5k Total so far, ~100k
Summary: He is Starfleet’s youngest captain. But he is untried, and inexperienced. What kind of captain will James Tiberius Kirk become? A story in three parts. Slow-building, will eventually be K/S.
Part One, Chapter One
A/N: Can it be believed? Is it really here? YES! The end of Part Two has finally arrived! (and, really, I'm not dead yet) XD
"All right," Kirk says, his eyes not leaving the PADD in his hand as he closes the conversation with his chief engineer. "Scotty was able to get the rec room closed off under the guise of repairing some of the lighting fixtures."
"And you had no idea he could do something sneaky," Uhura jibes, her eyes laughing as she glances at Sulu.
"Well, I didn't have prior knowledge of his devious nature," Sulu defends himself, and Kirk can only assume they're referring to the still that the captain isn't supposed to know exists.
While they're talking, Kirk's scanning the scheduling detail Uhura set up. He catches a conspicuous absence, and files it away instead of mentioning anything – for the moment. Satisfied with how everything seems to be shaping up, he glances to the man at his left. "Hikaru, does Chekov suspect anything?"
There's a grin on the pilot's face, as he shakes his head. "Nah, not at all. In fact, I'd say Pavel's worked himself into quite a funk – he thinks everyone's forgotten he's turning eighteen in a couple days."
"Good, good," Kirk murmurs, setting the PADD down and rubbing his hands together in anticipation. Everyone had been told to keep it quiet – and thankfully he has the best crew, ever. "And thanks to Uhura," he says, offering her a smile that she returns as her hands fold neatly before her on the table, "everyone he cares about will be at his surprise party."
"I've also got most of the supplies taken care of," she adds, her smile shifting so there's smugness there. "Including some surprises that requisitions didn't want to give up."
Glancing at the timepiece, Kirk grimaces. "I wish I had time to go over that with you, and see if there's anything else you need, but I have that conference with Pike in just a few minutes."
Sulu takes the hint and stands, punching Kirk in the shoulder as he makes his way towards the door. "I'll make sure he stays oblivious, Captain. You can count on me."
"And try to keep him distracted, so he doesn't get too depressed, will you?" Kirk mentions, rubbing the back of his neck where a coiling of tension has begun. "We don't want him thinking nobody cares about him at all."
"Gotcha," Sulu replies, and then with a wave he's gone.
Turning away from the door, Kirk watches as Uhura stands and gathers her supplies for a moment before he brings up his earlier observation. "I noticed that Sulu's name wasn't on the schedule for beta duty Friday."
He watches as her eyes widen slightly, and then her shoulders shift in an elegant shrug. But she still doesn't meet his gaze as she replies. "Oh, really? I hadn't realized."
Her feigned nonchalance makes him laugh, and he leans back in his chair. A faint crease appears between her brows as she looks up at him. "I can add him back in, if you would prefer, sir," she says, her voice stiff and formal.
Kirk shakes his head, leaning forward to turn off the PADD that holds the schedules. "No, no, that's not what I want," he corrects, smiling as he looks up at her. "I'm just glad someone else noticed it – I was beginning to think I was going crazy."
Almost instantly her shoulders relax, and her eyes crinkle prettily. "I wouldn't be worth my title as Communications Officer if I couldn't read body language that obvious, Captain."
They chuckle together for an instant, before the tension returns.
"As you saw, I have everyone working in two hour segments," she continues after a moment, the glimpse of friendship that's possible between them buried once again. "I figured that was the best way – instead of a few people having to step out to man the Bridge all evening, everyone takes a turn for a short while. That way everyone gets to enjoy themselves."
He nods his approval, and then silence descends between them as Uhura moves her supplies into her bag, her head down as she works. Kirk lets it continue, his fingers tapping on the top of the conference table as he watches her. The awkwardness between them is still palpable sometimes, though it's gotten better as the weeks have gone by. And it doesn't surprise him – his relationship with her has never been easy. A sigh passes his lips as he rests his chin on his hands. At least there's no outright hostility between them anymore. But it has been harder for him to relax around Spock when she's in the room – he knows that she knows, and he's had to walk on eggshells since that awkward conversation.
The sigh makes her look up, and her eyes soften. Her hand hesitates over one of her PADDs for a moment, and then reaches out to briefly squeeze his shoulder. "If you're worried about your eval, don't be," she mentions, out of nowhere.
The subject surprises him, and it's his turn to raise his eyebrow.
"You're an excellent captain," she explains, straightening with her bag pulled over her shoulder. "Everyone knows that – Pike knows that. You'll do great."
"Uh…thanks," is all he can really think to say, as another uncomfortable silence falls between them. It's not what he was contemplating, but he can't but appreciate the words and the sentiment as further sign that things are improving between them. Even so, they're left blinking at each other until the sound of someone clearing their throat by the door breaks the tension.
Uhura breaks into a smile, one that's without reservations – unlike when she smiles at Kirk. "I'll leave you two alone to wait for the incoming from Pike," she says, and makes her way to the door.
"Uhura," Kirk calls out after her, turning in his seat to face the doorway. She pauses, looking back over her shoulder at him questioningly. "Thank you. For all your help with the party."
One corner of her lips shifts upward into a smile, and she nods at him before saying goodbye to Spock and slipping through the door.
"Greetings, Captain," Spock murmurs as he seats himself in the chair to Kirk's right.
"Hey Spock," Kirk replies, reaching out to brush a fingertip against the shoulder seam of the Vulcan's uniform. He takes pride in the fact that the muscles don't tense beneath his touch anymore. "Are you ready for this meeting?"
Spock's right eyebrow rises, seemingly of its own accord, and Kirk catches a flash of humor in those brown eyes as Spock responds. "Seeing as Admiral Pike is the one administering the evaluations, there is nothing required of me to be prepared beyond arriving at the specified location at the designated time."
His eyes scrunch as he sticks out his tongue at Spock. "You know that's not what I mean! Are you ready to hear what he thinks?"
The eyebrow stays right where it is, as Spock deadpans. "How, exactly, would I prepare myself? If any of my actions as first officer require improvement, I will do so."
Before he can think of a suitable response the comm. unit on the table beeps into life. There's no need for an explanation, as the Bridge is only authorized to forward one call to this conference room.
Pressing the appropriate button, he orders, "Patch it through," and a moment later Pike's familiar visage appears on the forward screen. There's a hint of warmth, of a smile, before he speaks.
"Captain Kirk, Commander Spock," he says, nodding at each of them in turn. "I want to thank you for meeting with me today."
Sparing a moment to reflect on how grateful he is that his mentor and he are over the rough patch caused by the tribble incident, Kirk tries to push down any distrust he holds for anything resembling evaluations, and gives his customary cocky grin. "Admiral Pike."
"Greetings, Admiral," Spock replies a moment after, his voice smooth as always.
"We all know what brings us here today," Pike continues, glancing down at the PADD visible on the table. Kirk takes the opportunity to observe his mentor unnoticed, taking in the lack of a wheelchair – finally, thankfully. Pike looks good, and Kirk allows himself to breathe a sigh of relief.
"Of course we do," Kirk says, leaning forward and splaying his fingers across the tabletop. "You're here to tell Spock how awesome he is at his job, except that he needs to babysit me better and make me behave a bit more."
A flash as Pike's eyes raise to meet his through the screen. "And to tell me that, officially, I am doing 'acceptable', but need to follow regulations more to avoid giving the Admiralty frequent heart attacks." Or, at least, this is the outcome he's expecting from the evaluation of their first six months in space. Besides the one major foible with Uhura and the tribbles, Kirk believes his crew and he have been doing well.
Pike's laughter, sharp and surprised, floats through the room. "Essentially, Captain, that is correct. More detail exists in the official report I'll be forwarding along, but yes."
His eyes shift to focus on his former First, pride easily visible in his expression, "You've been handling your responsibilities phenomenally well, Spock. I know you don't usually accept praise and instead view it as unnecessary, but I give it when it's warranted. It's only been six months, but you have already balanced the majority of your duties as first officer and science officer. That is an outstanding accomplishment, and the Admiralty has certainly taken notice of it."
"Thank you, Admiral," Spock replies, bowing his head. "Your appraisal is noted."
Pike nods back, before his eyes return to Kirk – and the blond can feel himself squirming in his chair under their intense gaze. "And you have fulfilled each of your mission parameters, if sometimes unconventionally. While the Admiralty may not always approve of your methods, they are unable to deny that they are effective and always follow the heart of Starfleet regulations, if not the letter. While they are not always pleased, they can find no fault in your captaincy…so far." And Kirk can hear the pause there, the hint that refers to his probationary period, and he straightens in his chair, focusing intently. "Aside from one relatively minor oversight which created a situation you and your crew answered expediently and with ingenuity, your time in the chair has gone better than most first year captains."
And the breath he hadn't realized he'd been holding escapes in a whoosh, a huge grin spreading across his face. Kirk had been worried about how much that incident would affect his chances of keeping his ship for good, and he can't help the relief that so far, it's not going to. "Thank you, Admiral Pike," he says, the knot between his shoulder blades disappearing.
"Oh, I get an 'Admiral Pike' for that, instead of an 'old man'?" comes the sharp rejoinder.
Kirk holds back a comment about Pike not looking old anymore, and tilts his head to the side as he replies with, "Nah…the gray just makes you look distinguished."
"Unmannered whelp," Pike says with a snort, and Kirk can see he's trying to hide a smile. One of his hands raises, and Pike massages his temples as he continues, "I'm probably going to regret this, but – and this is my personal opinion, therefore off the record – you both are doing an excellent job. Especially with your unorthodox methods, and you're fulfilling everything I'd hoped you'd be. Keep it up."
And the glance he throws Kirk from behind his hand is weighted, heavy with meaning that he can't say aloud because of Spock's presence in the room. But Kirk can still easily read the message held there.
He just needs to keep it up for six more months.
He's surrounded by smiling, happy people. They laugh and mingle, glasses clinking merrily as the crowd ebbs and flows in its constant little dance. And unlike the rest of the gatherings he's been to recently, here there is no undercurrent of testing, no veiled eyes searching for the metaphorical – or physical – upper hand. These people are simply here to bask in the presence of their fellow crewmates, and enjoy the two-fold celebration. And it shows on their faces – open, and excited, with no signs of the stress Kirk usually witnesses.
Well, everyone is happy except the silent man seated beside him. With a grumble, Kirk reaches out and socks his friend soundly on the arm.
At least it elicits some form of response, as Sulu rubs the offended shoulder and gives Kirk a glare. "What's that for?"
Ignoring the scowl now focused on him, Kirk jerks his head in the direction Sulu has been staring all night. At the blond curls that are visible, even in this crowd, as the birthday boy travels from group to group. "Why don't you just go over there and ask him to dance already?"
Against all estimations otherwise, it is possible for the scowl on Sulu's face to deepen. His eyes glance at where Chekov momentarily disappears in the sea of people, then back at Kirk. "I don't want to spoil his night by keeping him all to myself." A pause, then a defeated shrug. "Besides, he hasn't danced with anyone who's asked, so it looks like he's not interested."
Kirk lets loose a long-suffering sigh, and shoots his friend a pitying look. "I know you haven't noticed cause you're too busy glaring at anyone within a meter of him, but he's been making moon eyes at you all night." And he knows he's using one of Bones' favorite phrases, but at the moment it sure seems appropriate.
He almost laughs at the startled expression on Sulu's face, but manages to hold it in. "So why don't you save the both of you a lot of headache, stop sitting here feeling sorry for yourself, and just go ask him to dance like he's been waiting for all night."
The deer-in-headlights look really is cuter on Sulu than Kirk expected, as the pilot stares at the blond with his jaw dropping. "But –"
"No buts," Kirk interrupts, and then adds with a grin. "Well, not in the rec room anyway, might make some people feel uncomfortable. But in your quarters or his afterwards, there better be two."
Sulu's eyes widen, and he seems to choke on thin air. With a snort, Kirk gives the pilot one more shove – physically, and metaphorically. "Go on, I know you've both wanted it for ages. Take the chance that's finally been given to you! He's legal, enjoy it!"
He only hesitates a moment longer before Sulu makes his way over, shaking his head as he goes. Kirk knows his smile is huge as he watches his friend leave, happy for both of them. They're good for each other, and it's made even more obvious by the deer-in-headlights look on Chekov's face – visible even at this distance – when Sulu finally speaks to him and they step out onto the dance floor.
Utterly satisfied with his role as matchmaker, Kirk turns to people watching once more. The rest of his Bridge crew is tangled in the nameless crowd, but instead of feeling alone he's feeling accomplished. The last six months have done wonders to turn these people from strangers to a cohesive, collective crew – and, most importantly, into friends.
Lost in thought, he almost doesn't catch the approach of one member of his crew until she's nearly reached him. With a start, he shakes himself from his revelry to greet her. "Enjoying yourself, yeoman Hsien-Ko?" he asks, with a smile.
She smiles in return, and a blush dances prettily across her cheeks. "Yes, Captain," she replies, hands folding demurely before her. "Would you like to dance?"
The question catches him by surprise, and it takes him a moment before he can formulate a response. If he's going to tell Sulu not to sit and pine away all night long, he better be willing to take his own advice. Kirk might not be interested in dating any of his crew – besides Spock – but that doesn't mean he can't dance with a pretty girl.
Standing, he holds out his hand. "I'd be glad to," he answers, as her small hand fits into his and he leads her out onto the dance floor.
A slow song is playing, most of the couples around them holding each other close and just swaying to the music. Kirk feels awkward, almost as if he were back in grade school, as he keeps a respectful distance between himself and Hsien-Ko. He doesn't miss the disappointment in her eyes as they move smoothly over the floor, and he tries to make up to her – without getting her hopes up – by highlighting some entertaining moments about the last time Chekov saved them from certain demise with his genius super powers. And when she smiles, he doesn't regret the fact that he's exaggerating the story a little bit.
But he also doesn't miss the fact that he should be basking in her attention, and trying to get closer – instead of just wanting to move away. He can't seem to stop his eyes from roaming through the crowd, hoping to catch sight of a head of dark hair and perfectly pointed ears.
So when the Vulcan suddenly appears at his side, precisely as the song is coming to a close, Kirk can't help his momentary surprise. Spock arriving at exactly that moment seems far more than coincidence – almost as if the Vulcan wished to ask him to dance – but Kirk dismisses it out of hand as wishful thinking on his part. That would be the action of a jealous Human, not a stoic Vulcan.
"Spock!" he says, shaking away the surprise and letting genuine happiness into his voice. The Vulcan looks even better than usual in a soft tunic and pants. Kirk sees Hsien-Ko's face fall, feeling a momentary pang of regret – but it's not enough to hold him there.
"Would you excuse us, yeoman?" Kirk asks, as Spock nods to acknowledge his greeting. The woman gives a slight moue of disappointment, but Kirk hardly notices as he turns towards his First. With a wave in her direction, Kirk leads Spock through the crowded room until they've reached the edges of the party.
"Thanks, Spock," he says once they're out of earshot, his voice pitched to carry through the constant noise of the party. "I would have had a devil of a time coming up with an excuse to leave."
The muscles in the broad shoulders before him ripple, and he's left wondering exactly why in the moment before the Vulcan speaks, "Think nothing of it, as I was not under the impression you required assistance when I arrived."
When Spock turns to face him once again, thoughts of Hsien-Ko and Spock's timely arrival fly from his mind. It's easy for Kirk to catch the signs of obvious stress around his first's eyes – he spends far too much time observing the Vulcan not to notice. Immediately concerned, he frowns as he has to stop himself from squeezing Spock's forearm in assurance.
"Hey, would you like to go somewhere else and talk?" he mentions, mentally cursing himself. He had forgotten how many people there are here, how there's not enough room to avoid bumping into Spock so the other guests would be brushing against him continuously. It must be a great strain on the Vulcan's shields.
A pause, in which Kirk assumes Spock is assessing his internal control, before the Vulcan nods. "That would be agreeable."
"Great," he replies, before slipping out the door with his First following behind. By unspoken accord, they make their way to the small observation deck off the Bridge that's become their customary hidey-hole, talking as they go. With each step, Kirk watches as the signs of stress ease on Spock's face, giving an internal sigh of relief when the door to the observation deck is closed, and the stress disappears completely.
As always, they both step up to the viewing window, Kirk standing close enough so that the fabric covering his shoulder brushes against Spock. Other than that, he keeps his hands to himself, giving Spock time to reinforce his defenses. There are some things he doesn't want seeping through to the Vulcan.
"Are you positive you do not desire to return to the party?" Spock asks, and Jim can hear a note of hesitation in his voice.
Shrugging at his ne ki'ne, Jim shakes his head. "Nah, I've had enough of parties for a while." He says it with a smile, warmed at the thought that Spock is considering him in the face of the Vulcan's own discomfort.
His eyes don't leave Spock's face, so he catches the smooth lift of an eyebrow as the Vulcan turns to regard him. "Indeed? I had assumed that outcome was not a possibility."
The comment surprises a laugh out of him, but Jim has to admit, "Yeah, me neither. But then again, I hadn't known what would happen if I found myself trapped in a karaoke bar with Bones where I'm the only person he knows."
"Indeed," Spock replies, the eyebrow receiving a curious tilt.
Answering the unspoken question, Jim taps his fingers against the railing as he continues. "It was that night we were off duty on the Caladari's home world. We went down to the planet, found a good bar serving that fruity liquor they're so fond of making. The bar just happened to have their equivalent of karaoke going on, and Bones was…a lot more interested than I had any right to expect."
He shudders as he remembers the horrors he was subjected to. "I narrowly escaped joining him on what passed for a stage, but my protests did nothing to stop him from taking multiple turns himself."
"The worst one of all? He sang 'Summer Loving.' Acapella. Both parts. By himself."
Fruity tang of apples on his tongue, but Jim hardly notices he's gotten so used to it happening. All he sees is the humor shining out of Spock's eyes as the Vulcan shakes his head.
"Fascinating," Spock says, the sarcasm virtually oozing out of the word. "I never suspected the doctor had a penchant for lyrical abandon."
Snorting, Jim hangs his head. "Neither did I. And I don't ever want to be witness to it again."
"I can certainly appreciate the sentiment," comes Spock's response, before silence lulls between them. The Vulcan's eyes change, the humor leaking away as something akin to awe replaces it. "I also had an…enlightening…experience while we were among the Calabari."
Curious – and also surprised Spock hadn't mentioned anything in the two weeks since they left that world – Kirk turns to observe the Vulcan more closely. "What happened?"
"I was in a discussion with one of their helotes," Spock begins, and Kirk recalls that the helotes are members of the Calabari's third, neutral, gender and usually the people's scientists and great thinkers. "Regarding their symbiotic relationship with the flora that covers them, and the depth of their bond. I was curious about the telepathic abilities therein, and what each gained from the development of said bond."
"Instead of simply describing what occurs, the helotes offered to allow me inside. To experience for myself what the bonding was." Those dark eyes widen, and Kirk can tell he's no longer looking out the window but seeing something else. "It…was like nothing I had ever before witnessed."
Blinking, Spock stares intently at Kirk. "The fungus is everywhere. Its roots fill the six chambers of the Calabari heart, feeding off the nutrients contained in their blood. It is intimately aware of the workings of the brain, not because it has one, but because it exists in the spaces between neurons. Even though, originally, they subsisted as two separate entities, they are irrevocably joined as one. The depth of the bond between them goes so far that there is no separation between the two – the Calabari and the fungus think, act, and live as if they are one being. Even their mental signature, their presence when my mind reached out for the joining, is of a single flame."
It's obvious how the experience affected the Vulcan, and perhaps ashamed of his emotional outburst, Spock looks down at his hands resting on the rail. After a moment, he speaks again. "No Vulcan has ever before witnessed a telepathic bond that deep, not in any of the races we have encountered in our time exploring beyond our world. I find I am fascinated by the possibility."
Clearing his throat, Spock continues, "And I am beginning to recognize what I believe to be envy when considering their ability to bond. The closest to that depth of bond we Vulcans are capable of achieving is called t'hy'la."
Kirk thinks he can understand Spock's envy. To have someone or something you can depend on, that is always with you no matter what. Someone that knows everything about you, intimately – even your deepest held secrets – and loves you anyway. It sounds appealing, but also terrifying in a very real way.
"What's a t'hy'la?" he asks, his tongue tripping over the unfamiliar word.
His shoulders shift minutely beneath the fabric of his tunic, as if he's uncomfortable, but Spock replies. "It is the deepest level of a bond possible between two katra. Because of this, it is sacred to my people even though it has not been recorded since the time of the S'Kanderai." A pause, then "I, as a youth, once contemplated the possibility of finding my t'hy'la. Though when I applied logic and reasoning to overcome what I then viewed as Human failings, I discarded such a romantic notion as not befitting a Vulcan."
Kirk's mind is flooded with a million questions, starting with why there haven't been any recorded instances of t'hy'la for eons, and moving on from there – but he won't press Spock for more information, as sharing even that much has probably taken the usually reticent Vulcan out of his comfort zone. And that if it had been anyone else, Spock would not have mentioned anything to begin with. Kirk counts it as one of the advantages of being ne ki'ne – while he may not get all the information on Vulcan culture he desires all at once, he is rewarded with precious pieces being strung through their conversations.
And he also doesn't ask because that would leave him open to questioning from Spock – and he doesn't really want to examine the tiny spark of want that flared to life in his heart at the Vulcan's words.
Perhaps it wouldn't be overwhelmingly terrifying if he had that type of bond with someone he trusted above all else.